It does not take much to make us realize what fools we are, but
the little it takes is long in coming.
Some days, green times of the early seventies filter through my memory and energize me with a subtle hopefulness. It was after all, and as they say, a time of innocence.
For over a hundred years our voices had been unwelcome, our presence banned. None of our ideas were thought to ennoble this pleasant urban space. Now, the breath of change, crisp and fresh, gave life to new friendship all around the campus.
Willowy, long-haired women in denim skirts which reached the ground or those in peasant garb or the ones with shaggy hair dressed in traditional worker blues picnicked in the sun. Books buttressing shoulders or balancing long sheets of ink filled paper, they sidelined sandwiches half-eaten, collected yogurt cups on the felt-like lawn. Miniskirts and mustaches passed, silent or sneering, either way unnoticed as the gathered women vowed to meet again for dinner on Wednesday night to share, then, a more personal conversation.
Elsewhere, alcohol and drugs were expanding minds. We adventured landscapes new and old, together and separately. And though it was not always sunshine, it remained mostly green, as we became the star-gazer, the professor, the business woman, the writer, the teacher, and the one who disappeared. Nor can we forget, the lawyer, the one who was made duty bound to make the change for our daughters and their daughters. We thought, then,”if women had the power…” We believed better worlds lay down the yellow brick road.
Young women dreaming, working hard, studying, achieving, so serious. Perched precariously, preparing for the revolutionary times that were ours to make and to finesse with fine ideas and our own fire.
But it became a summer of sweet content, mainly.
We became a writer and a star-gazer turned corporate traveler, a professor and two lawyers. Life gave husbands, wives, houses, children, joys, sorrows and to one an early death. With our sisters in the same professions or in book clubs, we met at power lunches, for power walks, power runs for sister candidates. We got older, looking younger than previous generations, with expensive lotions, female surgeons and women’s fitness routines. We styled our long hair, recycled peasant dresses, shrunk the denim.
As do our sisters of the same color, class and education, we live in such comfort our mothers dreamt of for the important and the wealthy. Many mothers, who showed us more than we will ever comprehend about life, age in “assisted living” placements. Our generation prides itself on our deep, rich, barrier breaking sensibilities.
Our urban campus today, a testament: “if you let them in they shall seize it all. ” Women outnumber men by three to one. The institute of learning which channeled leaders to high places in the city, now feeds nurses to the clinics. No less achieved. More?
But, do the women still picnic on the green, grasping a new world order? What of women vanished into that summer of content?
Deep hued times and even a new century, women rise with matured aspirations. Institutions defiantly departed now greet the daughters nonchalantly. Doctors and lawyers and professors, women are not uncommon. Justice, equality and power remain absent, but inky notes on picnic papers are quaint relics of past hopes and philosophies.
The real revolution was women talking. Women reaching out to women and listening to what was said. Wanting to know what the other thought, felt, experienced, understood, expressed. Certainly, this was a way of understanding self, narcissistic. But it was also, a way of reaching out into the world. Power, connection, caring.
As are blithe gatherings on the green, the conviviality for a cause vanished quickly in the summer. “Sisterhood” soon shrouded with a bruising cloth.
We used to say the political is personal, the personal, political.
Some us always listened to each other, perhaps because these were the only sisters whose care we had ever known. In that circle of understanding, learning, justice, connection, but validation above all. Naively seeing worldly circles equal, these women headed straight to painful falls.
Some of us, unaware we were so vulnerable. That attachment to a person and a cause would fray so quickly. “That isn’t the way I see it, I see it differently. There are extremists on every issue, in every time.”
Some of us,so easily intoxicated, refusing treatment, in denial our whole life long. For some, the drug, meanness, the silent, silken sway, enchanting, to see the others fall down in the path. The bitter taste, but men have drunk this brew through ages, so many blends. We drink with gusto.Our right. Our turn.
We , the bully, the bureaucrat, the shooter,the soldier,now as well.
” and so it goes,” Secretary Hillary Clinton may refuse to trash Sarah Palin just because she is asked to do so. But, Terry Gross will try to trash Secretary Clinton merely to show she can.
The writer will trash the business executive,traveling around the world. Not in the open, with the concrete thing, which can be seen and defended. But behind the curtains, to some of the others, some words spoken. The meaning clear, or not so clear, for the executive must believe she herself at fault.
The director of the community group will trash the popular professor. The professor, too kind, too supportive, or, perhaps, presents another defect. Is she a stand out member, too assertive, too many ideas? The emails and memos circulate. There are missed meetings, about which the professor was not called. She will later scramble to trace events, as if she is researching her dissertation: who has been told; what has been said; when did this start; what is happening? Falling into a well of darkness, unsure of the beginning or the end.
Trashing is crazymaking. Conflict announced as conflict avoidance. Sudden, the unanticipated cold steel apprehended in the midst of warm conversation.
Is this the old, old pattern from years ago, or a dynamic by a newer catchy name: the bully, the frenemy.
Is this just what we did in school when they said that boys were tough but girls were catty?
Oh, has the world changed at all in forty years?
On the TV after another school shooting, another protest. This time the grandmothers are all marching with colored signs outside the school. They blame the bullies, they blame the videos and they blame the gun laws. As I watch them, I cannot hep wonder how they communicate.
The statehouse steps erupt in shouts and angry protest as the car speeds away. The governor again declares not all citizens have equal rights. At the front, clenched fists are pounding the humid air, relentless. To the right, a couple embraces, and the woman cries on her partner’s breast.
The small courtroom empties to the lot in the shopping center. The man-child marches to his car, the woman-child to hers. Because he is a soldier, his drunken fists have been forgiven. What will those fists do in three months time in the desert sands of Afghanistan?
…it takes all the running you can do to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!